Eric Kluitenberg on Sun, 27 Jul 2008 15:31:43 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: [Nettime-nl] <nettime> 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover

Thank you Brian for a challenging and stimulating set of ideas and  
Also for your report from Korea.

A minor contribution here on two points you are making, some comments  
more than a criticism.

On Jul 22, 2008, at 23:57, Brian Holmes wrote:
> For most of the twentieth century, art was judged with respect to the
> previously existing state of the medium. What mattered was the kind of
> rupture it made, the unexpected formal or semiotic elements that it
> brought into play, the way it displaced the conventions of the genre  
> or
> the tradition. The prize at the end of the evaluative process was a
> different sense of what art could be, a new realm of possibility for  
> the
> aesthetic. Let's take it as axiomatic that all that has changed,
> definitively.

As I have come to understand this is that rupture is part of process  
of negation, a negative dialectics as some have called it (Adorno /  
Lyotard), in the case of the visual arts a 'negative dialectics of the  
image'. Now the point of negation is not the replacement of one mode  
of the visual by another, alternative one. Much rather the object of  
negation is to 'break' the image, to show its disfunctionality, to  
expose that every image hides more than it reveals.

This negation then opens up an experiential void, a non-space and a  
non-time (Lyotard has discussed at length how Kant had already  
described this as a "UnForm" (non-form) in his analytic of the  
sublime). In critical aesthetics this idea has been expanded and  
transformed further: In the experiential void opened up by the  
negation of the visual no imagination or life is possible. It is the  
very threat of the end of life as such. To put the threat to life at  
bay new modes of the visual are (immediately) put in place. Perhaps  
our brains are hard-wired to do this. But in this moment of negation,  
the breaking of the image, of the visual, an infinity is opened up, an  
infinity of possible modes of the visual, an infinite range of  
alternatives, one of which has to be (temporarily) adopted.

The real point of the negation and this negative dialectics as it was  
emblematically embodied by the bold quest of the avant-gardes, was not  
to find a somehow "better" alternative for that which was negated  
(perspective, unity of space, unity of time, surface, support,  
material, medium, etc etc...) but much rather to reveal the infinity  
of possibilities, the infinite space of alternatives.

Now what has changed and where I would follow you in most of your  
analysis is that the context in which art, criticism, and critical  
cultural production operate, has diversified to the point where  
multiplicity has replaced revolt.

The second important change is that I think that the kind of practices  
that were previously labelled as avant-garde have long been supplanted  
and taken over by actors in non-art contexts, stimulated and  
accelerated by the expansion of the digitised media infrastructures.  
The negation of symbolic structures now plays out and articulates  
itself in a much wider social and political domain, which makes your  
next remarks al the more prescient:

> The backdrop against which art stands out now is a particular state of
> society. What an installation, a performance, a concept or a mediated
> representation can do with its formal, affective and semiotic means is
> to mark out a possible or effective shift with respect to the laws,  
> the
> customs, the measures, the mores, the technical and organizational
> devices that define how we must behave and how we can relate to each
> other at a given time and in a given place. What you look for in art  
> is
> a different way to live, a fresh chance at coexistence. Anything  
> less is
> just the seduction of novelty - the hedonism of insignificance.
> If that's the case (if the axiom really holds), then a number of
> fascinating questions arise - for the artist, of course, but also for
> the critic. Where the critic is concerned, one good question is this:
> How do you address yourself to artists or publics or potential peers
> across the dividing lines that separate entire societies? How do you
> evaluate what counts as a positive or at least a promising change in  
> the
> existing balance of a foreign culture?

Adopting the formula outlined above I would say that the negation of  
dominant modes of symbolisation serves not just to point out and  
develop alternatives, but first of all to show that an infinite range  
of alternatives exists in which every possible mode of symbolisation  
(image, sound, text) hides more than it reveals (about actual social  
realities on the ground).

This is where I see the real significance of such 'symbol-hacking'  
practices, which can of course never stand on their own. They becomes  
a force for change when there is a local application and the material  
means to bring them further - but then we get into the discussion of  
strategies and tactics. Here I wanted first to comment on the  
theoretical proposition you made. How this then works for activists,  
artists, critics in oractice is the next step.


The second comment relates to the use of the concept of Empire. I  
wonder if the concept of Empire is really productive here to address  
your question of finding "a different way to live, a fresh chance at  
coexistence", which I read as a call for pluralism and multiplicity.  
Empire, however, suggest the rise of a hegemonic and more or less  
unitary form of social and economic/political organisation (along with  
its military extensions). Of course in Negri and Hardt's vision there  
are many internal struggles and conflicting actors within the body of  
Empire, but still they seem guided by a similar organisational logic  
and set of (hegemonic) objectives.

If, however, I look somewhat naively at geopolitical developments  
around me, I see much more of a fractallisation of Empire at the  
moment, i.e. the emergence of a multitude of self-similar, but self- 
contained empires. Importantly, these factal-empires also contest and  
counter-act each other to the point where their objectives and   
strategies become so heterogeneous that I wonder how productive the  
rather monolithic concept of Empire still is to analyse, let alone do  
something useful with this heterogeneity.

Much rather I would opt for an approach focused on a simultaneous  
localisation and multiplication of alternatives to such hegemonic  
forces and leave the concept of Empire behind.


Finally, on the reduction of American bases and how this plays out  
locally, in the case of your report in S-Korea, highly fascinating!

In such a localised address to a shift in 'hegemonic domination', I  
see the most productive approach to a new form of social and cultural  
critique. It will be very difficult to build that critique  
convincingly, given the lingual, cultural, material, economic and  
social rifts that separate the various actors that would need to be  
included in this, and also given the reliance on a global pigeon- 
English that many of us are struggling with..., but still this could  
be truly productive.

A problem that worries me on a more day to day basis and that follows  
directly from your account of the reduction and shifts of foreign US  
military basis is the question of the demilitarisation of society, and  
the technology and research sector in particular. It seems to me that  
there is a continuing legacy of the cold war era in which the  
military / industrial complex attempts to hold its ground, not just in  
the US, but also in the Russian Federation and many of the post-Soviet  
and other 'Western' powers, in terms of contracts, jobs, positions,  
production-infrastructures, international market-shares, entrenched  
financial positions. I.e. this is now a completely post-ideological  
space of political action.

Especially the domain of technological research and development has  
become so deeply militarised (fuelled even further by the 'war on  
terror' discourse) that it becomes difficult to imagine how to get rid  
of this condition. A reliable inside source told me years ago that  
even a relatively 'civil'-looking institution such as the MIT Media- 
Lab was at the time supported for more than 65 percent by military  
funding, carrying out projects that are conducted in utter secrecy,  
about which we can safely assume that they exist, but about which we  
cannot get any reliable information as to what they are and what they  
aim for. Stuff that you will never see on their public web pages. No  
doubt this percentage has only grown since, and it is presumably even  
worse in many other technological R&D centres.

How do "we" as cultural producers, critics, artists, deal with such  
realities if we are so prominently working in and with the products of  
this technological domain?
How to bring this back to the civil domain?

Some 'help' might be expected from the apparent economic demise of the  
US, making it increasingly difficult to provide for the upkeep for the  
world's largest army (hence the reduction and re-alignment of foreign  
US military bases). In effect, the upkeep is currently mostly  
financed  by China. This is, however, certainly not a problem of the  
US alone, and it plays out very differently in different contexts. The  
shared problem faced is how to turn this trend around (without a  
complete collapse), how to civilise the technological domain?

This is one area where the search for alternatives seems highly  
urgent, and it will require more than a process of mere 'negation' -   
A process of negation of dominant symbolic modes of hegemonic  
domination only serves to show that an infinity of other worlds is  
possible, I would say.

Well anyway, just some thought on a damp Sunday afternoon (it's hot  
and wet in Amsterdam).


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